As a current moderator we get to view many actions that users carry out that are not visible to regular users (primarily speaking we know the type of posts that they flag and sometimes the type of posts they apply downvotes to). This gives us an overall opinion on a user to suspect how they would act should they be given more seniority.

However, these may be passionate, well contributing users to the site itself, and therefore (rightly) well respected by the general community.

If these users decide they want to apply to be a moderator (assuming such actions are voted for by the regular site users) should I disclose their general actions to the community?

Something like: "You flag an awful lot of posts, many of them on posts that are fine for the site. Often these posts are never flagged by anyone else which leads me to suspect you may be overzealous as a mod. Would you agree with this?"

I'm not sure if alerting the community to this would count as 'abusing mod powers' because I would be exposing behaviour about a specific user to the wider community.

5 Answers 5


You can make an argument for both options, the important point in my opinion is that the rules should be decided before moderators are chosen and applied consistently. The candidates should be told that previously private information could be revealed if they apply, if that is the policy of the site.

There should be a clear policy as otherwise you might intentionally or unintentionally influence the moderation selection process unfairly if different standards are applied to different candidates.

I generally think that making exceptions to the usual privacy rules makes sense for moderator candidates as it is a voluntary decision by the user to apply. But I would also recommend to leave some room for users to change, and to avoid reviving very old issues that might not really tell much about how the user would behave today.


This is a little bit of a dicey issue. Most communities (including Stack Exchange) don't have as established guidelines for this scenario as they do for most day-to-day situations as it simply does not come up that frequently. In the end you usually have to make a judgment call about what is best for both the community and the user involved.

When electing moderators the priority is obviously going to be on what is best for the community with the interest of candidates taking a back seat. That doesn't mean that always exposing previously private details is necessarily in the best interest of the community.

My personal solution has been to prompt the candidates themselves to reveal the information.

Your hypothetical case is very similar to one I was involved with during a recent SE election. I knew a user had a history with flags¹ that was evidence of their unsuitability for the role of moderator. Having discussed it with the an SE COMM team member who suggested revealing the issue in general terms but not giving away the actual numbers, I opted for asking them to reveal the data instead. To make it fair I actually prompted all the candidates to comment on their flag accept rates. Since most of them had nothing to hide the additional reveal of private information was not a problem and the candidate that had dirt under the rug basically gave themselves away by not lifting the rug (and arguing about whether it was important).

I've seen several other cases where users who had been suspended for one reason or another were running in moderator elections. Comments from moderators aware of the issue asking the users to explain their history on the site were quite helpful in evaluating candidates without actually giving away any details directly. The users' responses to these prompts tend to be quite informative about their character.

I don't think it's an abuse of mod powers to ask carefully chosen leading questions of somebody who is candidate to be a moderator. Passing the buck back to the candidate to reveal the relevant information themselves can fulfill the need for the community to know who they are electing without the potentially gory details necessary needing to be revealed.

¹ In this case their nomination only showing the 'helpful' count was masking the fact that their total number of flags was huge and the majority of them were declined.

  • 1
    Having been suspended is a typical example of the sort of thing that only moderators would know, so that's a good example. Such a thing is likely to come out though, but there is likely some information that people may not be so forthcoming about so I guess an option is to lead them so far, but if they don't admit to something themselves then you could tease a reveal "Are you sure you're telling the community everything they should know about your history...?" sort of thing.
    – JonW
    Commented Jul 30, 2014 at 10:12

I've witnessed Caleb's approach, and it works well, although I've also seen it provoke an excessive amount of chatter - this is good because the candidate receives the attention of the community, but excessive chatter is mostly unnecessary noise.

The other approach I have seen used is current moderators (and occasionally SE team members) outright commenting that they believe the candidate is undesirable, without revealing specific details. This is usually enough for the community to pick up on (especially if more than one mod does it), and several times I have seen candidates withdraw from elections due to this.

"You flag an awful lot of posts, many of them on posts that are fine for the site. Often these posts are never flagged by anyone else..."

This is a good example, and it is something I think needs to be acted upon before voting starts. A person like this may tend to go on crusades once they have moderator capabilities, and that is something you can do without. Normally there will be some sort of publicly accessible indicator of this person's tendencies, so if you combine the approach I mentioned with Caleb's: "I think you might not be ready for moderator duties yet because your helpful flag ratio is suboptimal..."

TL;DR: State your opinion (even though you're a mod you're still allowed to!), but keep it short and to the point, and refer to publicly accessible metrics.


If there are higher ranking staff than you, I would advise you ask them on their policy first - everyone runs their communities differently.

However, you could try using Personal Messaging and asking them to tone down the stream of flagged posts, and then observe to see if changes are made. After all, if he's listening to you then surely that also is a good indicator of someone willing to listen and improve? If he doesn't, then you know that the user may become out of control over time.

Alternatively you could ask the community for their opinions on the person for moderator, in style of an election format (see: SE). This way you get feedback from people and you can use this to confirm your suspicions or give the user benefit of the doubt. If they seem angered/saddened by members being constructively criticising, then you may want to subtly say about their flagged post spree.

In any case it wouldn't be classed as abusing mod powers really as that is a fine example of detecting who is suitable for moderatorship, and as long as you're not pointing out specific examples I don't think anyone would have a problem with you pointing out generics. Still, ask the higher administration of possible, otherwise, if you are the highest rank, then you can make the choice exclusively, should you wish to.


This is a case wherein "smallest audience" should always apply

And always put the best possible construction on their behavior, until proven otherwise (ie, don't mind read and assume thing you do not or cannot know 😀)

If you're a moderator, and feel someone who's applying to be a moderator might be "overzealous", start by addressing your fellow mods (if there are any) - see if they have the same feeling you do

If they (or a majority of them) do, construct and send a message to the applicant outlining any concerns in a neutral-to-positive manner, being sure that all other mods are aware of your message

After a conversation with the applicant and other mods, either let them continue the process (especially if it's a community-voting thing like SE utilizes), or let them withdraw

If it's a community-choice arrangement, a la Stack Exchange, your "lone" concerns probably don't need to be aired to everyone

If it's an add-by-existing-mods arrangement, it's up to the existing moderators as to whether they think the applicant should become one of them

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